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Losing an employee costs more than developing a new one. U.S. businesses lose $10 billion annually due to employee turnover, and as the economy improves, workers who feel their employers aren’t investing in their professional development are leaving to pursue better opportunities.

So, why are some companies dragging their feet and refusing to invest in employee development? In some cases, it comes down to an insecurity most managers don’t want to acknowledge: the fear an employee may become become overqualified, outgrow his job, and leave the company to pursue a better position elsewhere before a promotion is available. This fear isn’t completely baseless. Young high achievers job hop frequently to earn a higher salary, and on average, leave their jobs after only 28 months.

Withholding professional development from employees is not the right response to this fear; it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Employees seek professional development to achieve successful careers, and when companies don’t invest in this development, employees leave.

The True Cost of Disengaged Employees
The real cost of insufficient professional development equates to unmotivated and disengaged employees. According to Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace Report, 70 percent of American workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged.” That’s a scary thought.

Active employee disengagement costs the U.S. an estimated $450 to $550 billion per year. When employees are less engaged in their work, they require more supervision, make more mistakes, and cost their companies more money.

On the other hand, employees who know their employers not only value them, but also invest in their future, become more engaged and motivated at work. Engaged employees see higher productivity, higher profitability, and higher customer satisfaction ratings. They also make fewer mistakes. Perhaps surprising to some is that engagement levels play a bigger role in employee satisfaction than corporate perks like vacation days and flex time.
Most employees feel satisfied and engaged when they’re encouraged and equipped to contribute to the company’s overarching mission. This mission must, of course, be well-communicated, focused around a greater purpose, and go beyond the shareholders’ value. Employees want to feel like strategic partners. When they are given the necessary educational tools to participate, they become more motivated to help the organization work toward its goals—and will stay longer at the company.

Make Your Training Worthwhile
Employee training is often viewed as tedious, dull, and time-consuming—not a recipe for employee satisfaction. So, how do you develop a training program your employees will enjoy and actually find valuable? The key to effective employee development lies in thinking beyond traditional training, putting the infrastructure for learning in place, rewarding ongoing education, and getting out of the way so employees can teach themselves.

1. Understand Employees’ Learning Styles
People learn in different ways: There are visual learners, auditory learners, or kinesthetic learners. Others learn best on their own or in small groups with other people. An employee may decide to read training materials on his smartphone riding the morning train, instead of on his computer at work. The more flexibility offered to your employees for their training, the better.

2. Play to Employees’ Strengths Instead of Improving Weaknesses
According to Gallup, building employees’ strengths is a far more effective approach than trying to improve their weaknesses. The benefits of the strength-based approach range from better relationships with managers and increased productivity at work to decreased stress levels, fewer sick days, and fewer instances of developing a chronic disease.

3. Don’t Waste Their Time
Sometimes during a learning “intervention,” people feel the opportunity cost for learning is greater than the benefit of the lesson learned. Stay mindful of this as a manager. Don’t create a five-hour sales meeting that could occur in three 30-minute increments, or require people to read a full book on a topic when they could grasp the concepts from brief summaries.

4. Let Them Take Charge of Learning
Employees are adults who are fully capable of teaching themselves what they are motivated to learn as long as they have access to the right resources and experts. A good leader has a teacher mentality and motivates his team to learn. After providing the right learning assets and opportunities (on an ongoing basis), these leaders step back, and they allow the employees to build their own development plans, apply their lessons, and collaborate with others.

The fastest way to capture the hearts and minds of employees is to make them feel valued and, thus, motivated in their jobs. While it may seem counter-intuitive to train employees to advance beyond their current roles, investing in employee development will increase their loyalty to the company, help them stay longer, and allow the employee to build bench strength at the same time. As a result, you’ll have a highly engaged team of productive employees working to advance the company as a whole.

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